Survival Tips for New Immigrants

Maybe it’s because I know so many people who have recently moved countries or are about to take that particular leap, but I’ve been thinking about life as a new immigrant a lot lately.

Friends and acquaintances have been sharing so many firsts photos in their feeds, it’s difficult not to get all nostalgic about the same time in my own life. The feeling of the late-summer sun on my skin as we walked around in Essen for the first time. The excitement that came with the first frost and Christmas markets. The epicness that was that first winter, with the novelty of snow.

And then, when we did it all again in Canada.

I’ve written about coping after this kind of move in the past (Part One and Part Two of Tips to Help You Adapt After Immigration and The Stages of Home) but I want to update some of my ideas today.

Write down why you left

You don’t believe me now, a week or two after you’ve reached New Home after all those months of preparations, but a day is approaching where you’ll wonder what the hell you’ve done.

I found this especially true in the dying coughs of my first German winter, the very same one I linked to above, when the sun had been devoured by layer upon layer of soggy grey clouds. When you’re from a country where the sun is almost always out to play–no matter the season–there’s something fundamentally depressing about going without at least a glimpse of sunlight for two weeks at a time, then having half an hour of daylight before sunset, just to re-enter the constant cloud cover zone. This was our reality for almost two months in the late winter/early spring, when it’s always drizzling and slick with ice in parts of Europe.

You miss your family, you miss the weather, you miss that coffee place on the corner, and so help me, if you have to hear one more announcement on the train in a language you’re desperately trying to learn but aren’t there yet, you’ll sob uncontrollably. What the hell have you done?

I call this the ‘Oh, Shit’ stage.

I reckon it’ll be easier to cope with if you have something you can refer to when you start to doubt your decision to move. So write down why you took the plunge. Maybe the money is better. Maybe you’ve always dreamed of living in Europe (buy waterproof shoes :P). Maybe there’s less crime, or a better future for your kids. Maybe you moved to have an adventure, to surf new waves, to sample exotic cuisine. Maybe you just left to have faster internet.

Also, try to write down what you love about New Home in the first while when you don’t have enough wow’s to describe New Home. Wow, I really love this shop. Wow, the sunset over the ocean. Wow, the nice lady helped me to find the right train. That kind of thing.

Anything that will remind you that you haven’t made the biggest mistake of your life will be a big help in this phase.

Keep photos or mementos handy

Yes, we all have Facebook or Instagram, but I found it so helpful to have printed photos of the people we love at eye-height around the house. In Germany, we kept these photos in an album where Kayla could easily access them too. She was still small back then (where has the time gone?) and it was easier for her to page through the album and poke her stubby little fingers at those faces she missed. Now that she’s bigger, we’ve framed the pictures and put them up where we see them every day.

It helps to know you’re not alone, even when you’re very far away from the people you love.

I’ve mentioned the mementos thing before, but I can’t stress enough how much it helps to have some semblance of the every-day when you’ve moved and are still trying to find your feet.

Even if you just move across the street, there’s always a chaotic stage afterwards when your new place doesn’t feel like home yet, right? You haven’t had time to stamp down your essence. This feeling is much amplified when you’re in a new country.

Even if it’s just your favourite teapot, a book, or a pillow, it’ll buy you some peace of mind to see something that reminds you of home every day. This is especially true for kids. Do make sure to have something from their old room in your luggage when you leave. DON’T put the blankie she needs to sleep in the cargo of a freight ship, only to be delivered three months from now.

Get out

I became a hermit in Germany. When I was most depressed, I didn’t go anywhere without Jan. I’m not kidding you when I say I stayed at home and didn’t interact with anyone except my family for weeks at a time.

This was really bad. For me, but more for Kayla, I think. At the time, though, I couldn’t cope. I was anxious and depressed, and this strange new country freaked me out.

Eventually, I realised what a mess I was and made a point of getting out every day. Even if it was just a short walk to greet my hubs at the train station. This made a major difference to my mental health.

I forgot about those walks when we just moved to Canada, but then I made a conscious choice to get out again when my anxiety got the best of me.

You may not want to, especially not in the ‘Oh, Shit’ stage, but take my word for it. Get out.

Walk, run, explore, whatever, but don’t let the worry over what you’ve done rob you of joy.

Be honest about what you’re feeling

I didn’t do this after our move to Germany. In fact, while I was pretty much drowning in angst and depression, my family and friends had no idea. They thought we were all fine and settled.

When I finally did allow myself to open up about what I was going through, everyone was shocked. We looked so happy. On a side note here, it’s way too easy to smile when a camera is pointed your way. There’s always more going on behind the Instagram-perfect moment.

I tried to do the whole thing differently when we moved to Canada. I was open about every concern from the very start, and I got over the post-immigration shock so much faster.

I will concede that the language and culture had a big impact on my mental well-being too. We could actually ask store clerks questions and understand their responses. We could turn on the radio and follow the conversations between DJ’s. Because of the Commonwealth, Canada and South Africa actually have a lot in common in terms of culture, and even the available grocery and clothing items.

Still, telling people how I felt meant I didn’t have to carry the weight of it all alone. Priceless.

Do try to be kind to yourself too. Immigration isn’t easy. It’s an enormous change and does take time to get used to. Some people don’t struggle as long as others, but I’ve yet to meet the immigrant who hasn’t had some sort of stress related to their move.

They all have another thing in common as well–they survived, and made a new home of their New Home. So will you.



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